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Girl pens song with poignant message

October 27, 2003|by PEPPER BALLARD

pepperb@herald-mail.com

In her 10 years, Sarah Benkert has written about 15 poems, but her latest ballad about a girl who made bad choices has won the attention of her school and the Washington County Board of Education.

The Eastern Elementary School fifth-grader's song, "Just Say No," won a school song-writing contest that was held to coincide with Red Ribbon Week, a national anti-drug campaign.

Last week, Sarah performed her song at a School Board meeting, where she received a Golden Apple award and a World Class Student Award for her song-writing efforts. On Wednesday, all Eastern Elementary School students will sing "Just Say No" during the morning announcements.

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"Since we had anti-drug week, I wrote what would happen if you smoked or drink," Sarah said.

Her song follows a fictional "Casie Smith," who had "everything going on" until she smoked a cigarette on a school playground.

Sarah said she doesn't know anyone who does drugs, but she does know of children who smoke cigarettes.

She thinks it's important for children her age to understand why using drugs or alcohol is wrong.

"Soon they'll be going into middle school and high school," she said. "When they go into middle school and high school, there'll be a lot of pressure on them to take drugs."

Sarah, a Whitney Houston and Jennifer Lopez fan, spent about 21/2 weeks writing the song's lyrics.

Her music teacher, Nicole Swartwood, helped Sarah put music to her words. Swartwood said after hearing a variety of tempos, Sarah chose a slow one to accompany her song.

Swartwood said Sarah went with the soft piano background because it didn't distort the message of the lyrics: "You can do anything. You can be anyone. You can go anywhere. Just try - You'll get by. Just say no."

Swartwood said the two of them discussed how a faster-paced song might distract listeners from the message Sarah wants to send.

"We spend so much time learning somebody else's music that we lose out on the creative process," Swartwood said.

Swartwood, who helped design the contest, said she hopes students will have more opportunities to be creative with song-writing in the future.

Sarah said she enjoyed seeing her poem turn into a song with Swartwood's help.

"I liked it because you got to express your feelings about drugs, alcohol and cigarettes," she said.

Sarah, a member of the school's show choir, said she does karaoke at the mall and sings at her church, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"Lots of students are told, 'don't take drugs, don't take drugs,' that they don't take it seriously," she said.

"If they hear it from a kid, then they might be more able to listen," she said.

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